Read The China-India Article by Robert Kaplan in Foreign Affairs

Editor’s Update – August 1, 2009 – The Financial Times reported on July 30 that India plans to build 100 warships in response to increasing Chinese naval might in the Indian Ocean.

On June 5, 2008 we watched Erin Burnett of CNBC interview Dr. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of Yale about India. In this interview, Dr. Sonnenfeld made a comment about India and China which stunned us. It showed us the lack of awareness of American commentators and, indeed of global investors, about the deepening military and strategic rivalry between China and India. 

So we wrote our first article on this topic titled “Dr. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of Yale – Is his ignorance symptomatic of Global Investors?” In this article, we discussed the escalation of military buildup along the long Himalayan border between these two countries that stretches from Afghanistan to Myanmar. (see our article at  http://www.cinemarasik.com/2008/06/13/dr-jeffrey-sonnenfeld-of-yale–is-his-ignorance-sympotomatic-of-global-investors-and-global-media.aspx ).

We expanded our coverage of this topic from the land border to the developing China-India rivalry (& the deepening cooperation between USA and India) in the Indian Ocean (see our article “India – A Strategic Security Partner to the USA in the Persian Gulf” – September 27, 2008 –  
http://www.cinemarasik.com/2008/09/27/india—a-strategic-security-partner-to-the-usa-in-the-persian-gulf.aspx ).

In this context, we bring to your attention a significant article on this topic published in the March/April 2009 issue of “Foreign Affairs”. The article is titled “Center Stage for the Twenty-first Century” with the sub-title “Power Plays in the Indian Ocean”. It is written by Robert Kaplan,  a Senior Fellow at the Center for New American Security, in Washington, D.C., and, recently, the Class of 1960 Distinguished Visiting Professor in National Security at the U.S. Naval Academy.

We are mere rasiks who look at world events from a broad cinemascopic viewpoint and bring what we find interesting to the attention of our readers. We are not experts like Mr. Kaplan. We were happy to see our own themes articulated in Mr. Kaplan’s article and we were just as happy to read where he disagrees with our viewpoints.

This article in Foreign Affairs is detailed and thoughtful. It will provide you insights into what could become a major subject in the next decade with global trade, investment and military implications. That is why we consider this article a must read for all global investors, financial journalists, military and policitical commentators and all readers interested in China or India. Read this article at http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20090301faessay88203/robert-d-kaplan/center-stage-for-the-twenty-first-century.html

Below we share some excerpts from this article with occasional comments.

  • “Summary:  Already the world’s preeminent energy and trade interstate seaway, the Indian Ocean will matter even more as India and China enter into a dynamic great-power rivalry in these waters.”
  • “Because of their own geographic circumstances, Americans, in particular, continue to concentrate on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  The bias is even embedded in mapping conventions: Mercator projections tend to place the Western Hemisphere in the middle of the map, splitting the Indian Ocean at its far edges. And yet, ….the Indian Ocean already forms center stage for the challenges of the twenty-first century.”
  • Throughout history, sea routes have mattered more than land routes, writes the historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto, because they carry more goods more economically. “Whoever is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice,” went one saying during the late fifteenth century, alluding to the city’s extensive commerce with Asia; if the world were an egg, Hormuz would be its yolk, went another.”
  • “In 1890, the American military theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan published The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, which argued that the power to protect merchant fleets had been the determining factor in world history. Both Chinese and Indian naval strategists read him avidly nowadays.”
  • “Globalization has been made possible by the cheap and easy shipping of containers on tankers, and the Indian Ocean accounts for fully half the world’s container traffic. Moreover, 70 percent of the total traffic of petroleum products passes through the Indian Ocean, on its way from the Middle East to the Pacific. Forty percent of world trade passes through the Strait of Malacca; 40 percent of all traded crude oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz.” 


  • “Zhao Nanqi, former director of the General Logistics Department of the People’s Liberation Army, proclaimed in 1993, “We can no longer accept the Indian Ocean as an ocean only of the Indians.” India has responded to China’s building of a naval base in Gwadar by further developing one of its own, that in Karwar, India, south of Goa.”
  • “Meanwhile, Zhang Ming, a Chinese naval analyst, has warned that the 244 islands that form India’s Andaman and Nicobar archipelago could be used like a “metal chain” to block the western entrance to the Strait of Malacca, on which China so desperately depends. “India is perhaps China’s most realistic strategic adversary,” Zhang has written. “Once India commands the Indian Ocean, it will not be satisfied with its position and will continuously seek to extend its influence, and its eastward strategy will have a particular impact on China.”
  • “The Chinese government has already adopted a “string of pearls” strategy for the Indian Ocean, which consists of setting up a series of ports in friendly countries along the ocean’s northern seaboard. It is building a large naval base and listening post in Gwadar, Pakistan, (from which it may already be monitoring ship traffic through the Strait of Hormuz); a port in Pasni, Pakistan, 75 miles east of Gwadar, which is to be joined to the Gwadar facility by a new highway; a fueling station on the southern coast of Sri Lanka; and a container facility with extensive naval and commercial access in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Beijing operates surveillance facilities on islands deep in the Bay of Bengal. In Myanmar, whose junta gets billions of dollars in military assistance from Beijing, the Chinese are constructing (or upgrading) commercial and naval bases and building roads, waterways, and pipelines in order to link the Bay of Bengal to the southern Chinese province of Yunnan.” 
  • “The Chinese government is also envisioning a canal across the Isthmus of Kra, in Thailand, to link the Indian Ocean to China’s Pacific coast — a project on the scale of the Panama Canal and one that could further tip Asia’s balance of power in China’s favor by giving China’s burgeoning navy and commercial maritime fleet easy access to a vast oceanic continuum stretching all the way from East Africa to Japan and the Korean Peninsula.”
  • “All of these activities are unnerving the Indian government. With China building deep-water ports to its west and east and a preponderance of Chinese arms sales going to Indian Ocean states, India fears being encircled by China unless it expands its own sphere of influence. The two countries’ overlapping commercial and political interests are fostering competition, and even more so in the naval realm than on land.”
  • The article goes on to make the case that the Indian Ocean matters just as much to far away states of Central Asia. It states that “On a maritime-centric map of southern Eurasia, artificial land divisions disappear; even landlocked Central Asia is related to the Indian Ocean. Natural gas from Turkmenistan may one day flow through Afghanistan, for example, en route to Pakistani and Indian cities and ports, one of several possible energy links between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Both the Chinese port in Gwadar, Pakistan, and the Indian port in Chah Bahar, Iran, may eventually be connected to oil- and natural-gas-rich Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and other former Soviet republics.”
  • “Others have called ports in India and Pakistan “evacuation points” for Caspian Sea oil. The destinies of countries even 1,200 miles from the Indian Ocean are connected with it.”
  • “S. Frederick Starr, a Central Asia expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said at a conference in Washington last year that access to the Indian Ocean “will help define Central Asian politics in the future”.”
  • The closing section of the article is called “ELEGANT DECLINE” (of the US Navy’s current predominant status in the Indian Ocean) and lays out the following points:
    • “The United States faces three related geopolitical challenges in Asia: the strategic nightmare of the greater Middle East, the struggle for influence over the southern tier of the former Soviet Union, and the growing presence of India and China in the Indian Ocean. The last seems to be the most benign of the three. China is not an enemy of the United States, like Iran, but a legitimate peer competitor, and India is a budding ally. And the rise of the Indian navy, soon to be the third largest in the world after those of the United States and China, will function as an antidote to Chinese military expansion.”
    • “The task of the U.S. Navy will therefore be to quietly leverage the sea power of its closest allies — India in the Indian Ocean and Japan in the western Pacific — to set limits on China’s expansion.”
    • “To be sure, as sea power grows in importance, the crowded hub around Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia will form the maritime heart of Asia: in the coming decades, it will be as strategically significant as the Fulda Gap, a possible invasion route for Soviet tanks into West Germany during the Cold War.”
    • “With a Chinese-Pakistani alliance taking shape, most visibly in the construction of the Gwadar port, near the Strait of Hormuz, and an Indian naval buildup on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, near the Strait of Malacca, the Indian-Chinese rivalry is taking on the dimensions of a maritime Great Game.”(emphasis ours).


As we said earlier, this article by Robert Kaplan is a must read at http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20090301faessay88203/robert-d-kaplan/center-stage-for-the-twenty-first-century.html

Editor’s Note: As you read this article, you may come to agree with our assessment of the enormous damage caused to India by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Mr. Nehru was totally ignorant of geostrategic concepts and reviled military strength. The British left India with the a great strategic advantage and Mr. Nehru frittered it away. He virtually gave away Tibet to China, declined to permit the Indian Military to recapture the half of Kashmir seized by Pashtun rebels. This act alone established the land link between China and Pakistan. This land link allows China land access to the Persian Gulf, something it never had in its entire 5,000 year history. Nehru was also instrumental in persuading Mahatma Gandhi to accept India’s partition and the creation of Pakistan.

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